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Many area churches offer free meals
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
More area churches need to offer free community meals to people in need, said several representatives of churches that already offer the service.
Among them are:
Chatham Heights Baptist Church has been doing a free community meal for about two years, according to Dr. Mike Hatfield, pastor.
He said the church was inspired by some other churches that have been doing it longer, such as Calvary Christian and Christ Episcopal churches.
Chatham Heights Baptist tried to pick a date that did not conflict with community meals it was aware of, Hatfield said. “We chose the last Thursday of the month” from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., he said. He added that “the end of the month is hardest” on families as they try to make ends meet.
The meals at Chatham Heights Baptist draw 60 to 120 people a month, depending on the weather, Hatfield said.
People out of work and others struggling to pay their bills are among those who come, he said.
In addition to providing a free meal, the church gives people a list of other churches in the area that it knows provide free meals, as well as other agencies and ministries that might be able to help, according to Hatfield.
“We want to be another resource. We want to be able to feed longer by cooperating with other churches,” Hatfield said.
“If we had enough churches doing this, we could stretch our dollars further,” he said.
Chatham Heights Baptist has a fund to pay for the meals, but it encourages its members to donate food or prepare dishes, Hatfield said.
“I think it’s (providing free meals) transformed the way we look at the hunger issue and the way we look at families struggling — how grateful many of these people are,” he said.
The church is at 1235 Chatham Road, Martinsville.
McCabe Memorial Baptist Church has been providing community meals since March 2012, said Ruth Young, who is committee chairman for the community meal.
“God calls us to help with the needy and poor. It’s scriptural. I believe there is a need in our community because so many people are out of work. It is our responsibility to help if we can, she said.
“We noticed a lot of churches” from a number of denominations were providing free meals, she said. “We tried to do a day no one else was doing,” Young added.
McCabe provides the meal on the second Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Attendance started at about 25 and now is 55-65 people each month.
Young estimates the church will have spent about $1,500 to provide the meals for the first year, using money church members donate for benevolences.
An average of about 20 people volunteer each month to put on the meal, including cooks, servers and cleanup people, Young said.
“There are four of us cooks,” Young said. At a recent meal, they prepared chicken?vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and red velvet cake.
When they were through, Young thought she was going to collapse because she was exhausted, she said. But, she added, “it’s also a rewarding feeling, and I don’t regret one thing I do.”
“We’re glad we have the opportunity to help those who need a good hot meal,” she said.
She believes people in need go from one church meal to another since they are held on different days.
McCabe’s meal also draws some older people who live alone and come for fellowship, Young said.
McCabe is at 107 Clearview Drive, Martinsville.
Smith Memorial United Methodist Church
Carolyn Plaster and Betty Heaton started Smith Memorial United Methodist Church’s free community meal about 21?2 years ago, Plaster said.
She cited “a huge need” for churches to provide free community meals.
“People are stretched thin, even people who are working,” she said. “I see the need as great as when we started, if not more so.”
“We see a variety of people: families who live nearby; young people from the college (Patrick Henry). Our own church members come not only to eat but fellowship,” Plaster said.
Organizers began Smith Memorial’s community meal in hopes that families with children in the Step Ahead enrichment program would eat with them. It has grown from there, Plaster said,
They tried to pick a day for the meal when other local churches weren’t having theirs. At Smith Memorial, the meal is on the last Wednesday of each month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
An average of 150 to 200 people are fed each month, she said. “Each month we see some of the same people, but different people also,” Plaster said.
The church has money in its budget to pay for the meal from people’s tithes and contributions, she said.
Thirty-five to 50 volunteers are involved in putting on the meal each month, she added.
If any food is left over from the meal, it is given to another church putting on a free meal, to an agency such as Citizens Against Family Violence or to a nursing home in Bassett. “It doesn’t go to waste,” Plaster said.
The church is at 2703 Daniels Creek Road, Collinsville.
Pastor Michael Harrison of The Community Fellowship Church, 2674 Virginia Ave., Collinsville, said the church has a free community meal the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon and the fourth Saturday of each month at 4 p.m.
An average of 250 people are fed at each meal. Anybody who is hungry is welcome, Harrison said.
He noted the church began offering the meals consistently three years ago, At that time, the church chose dates when other local churches were not offering free community meals.
Harrison said he thinks more area churches need to provide free meals. “There is a need to feed hungry people, yes,” Harrison said.
Church in Martinsville
Nancy Baker said First Presbyterian Church in Martinsville began offering a free monthly community breakfast in January 2012. She is moderator of the church’s mission and evangelism committee, which is in charge of the meal.
On average, 50 to 60 people are fed and 10-20 volunteers are involved with the meal, she said. Some of the people who come to eat are without jobs, and some come for the fellowship, she said.
Baker estimates it costs about $1,500 a year to provide the meal. Funds come from donations from church members, a contribution from the women of the church and from a grant, she said.
Forrest Truitt said the breakfast is on the third Saturday of each month from 8 to 9:30 a.m. in the fellowship hall of the church at 1901 Patrick Henry Ave.
First United Methodist Church in Martinsville
Pastor Keith Ritchie said the church been providing free community meals for several years. The meals are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-11 a.m. at the church at 146 E. Main St.
An average of 30 to 40 people are served each day, he estimated. “Those folks are people who have a need of this ministry,” he said.
The program is funded though contributions from the church’s congregation, he said.
He thinks more churches in the area need to provide free meals, he said. In talking with other churches that offer free meals, “the need is not going away. It seems to be growing. It’s rough out there,” he said.
Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Roy Pollina, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, said that recently the church’s free monthly community meal has had an average attendance of 80-90, mostly people in need. On average about 30 volunteers are involved. Recently Boys and Girls Clubs have helped.
The church is at 311 E. Church St., Martinsville.
Teens Opposing Poverty
Annie B. Boyd, a junior at Carlisle, is one of the leaders of the Martinsville chapter of Teens Opposing Poverty (TOP). The group began holding a free community meal at Frank Wilson Park in the fall of 2011.
“At first, we did it only one or two Sundays a month. Now we’ve been able to do it almost every Sunday for five or six months,” she said.
On average 15 to 20 people are fed at each meal, depending on the weather, and usually 10-15 youths and three adults are involved, Boyd estimated, adding that as many as 60-70 people have been fed. Youths from First United Methodist Church of Martinsville, First Presbyterian Church of Martinsville, Forest Hills Presbyterian Church and Christ Episcopal Church are involved in putting on the meal, she said.
Anyone who needs a meal is invited. Among those who have come are people from low-income housing, people who are homeless, people in halfway houses, battered women and people in the park on a Sunday who need a meal, she said.
She said a sign is posted in front of the park in advance to let people know when the meals will be held, and fliers are distributed.
According to information from the Rev. Jenny Spivey, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Martinsville, the meals are served from 3-5 p.m. usually in a pavilion in Wilson Park, but occasionally across the street at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church if the weather is bad. Upcoming meals are scheduled for March 3 and 17, April 13 and 28, an May 5 and 19, she said.
This list is not all-inclusive. Check the Martinsville Bulletin’s daily Calendar as well as with churches and organizations to find other groups which provide the free meals.